* Kerosene heater sales surge on uncertain power supplies
* Unclear if heater sales will mean higher kerosene demand
* Weather forecaster sees milder to normal winter in north
By Risa Maeda
TOKYO, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Japan’s kerosene heater sales more than quadrupled in the six months to end-September, in part as consumers brace for possible power shortages this winter, although whether this leads to an actual rise in kerosene use will depend on the weather and on power supplies, industries officials said on Tuesday.
Oil companies in Japan have already piled up stocks of kerosene at a pace about 20 percent higher than a year ago, anticipating that worries over a reliable power supply for electric heating will boost kerosene heater use, while many households hit by the March tsunami have also bought new kerosene heaters.
But officials said it was unclear whether the surge in heater purchases, shown in industry data on Tuesday, was aimed at securing an emergency supply of heat in case of another earthquake or power shortage, or if consumers would actually put them to use heating their homes.
“It’s difficult to assess demand for kerosene this winter because we don’t know why people are buying more kerosene heaters,” Petroleum Association of Japan President Akihiko Tembo said at a news conference last week.
“Whether sales of kerosene come in higher than expected will initially depend on how cold it is,” he added.
On Tuesday, Japan’s official weather forecaster said in its monthly three-month forecast that Japan would see mostly milder to average weather from November to January.
Japan’s government and regional power companies are working out plans to avoid rolling blackouts this winter, as the loss of most of the country’s nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima crisis crimps supplies while an increasing number of Japanese households are relying on electric heat.
Public concerns over nuclear safety have kept reactors from restarting after routine maintenance, leaving only 10 of Japan’s 54 commercially operating reactors on line.
Four more reactors are due shut by the end of the year and it is unclear when idled reactors may begin restarting, with utilities wrapped up in what could become a prolonged series of safety tests.
Kansai Electric Power Co , Shikoku Electric Power Co and Kyushu Electric Power Co in western and southern Japan are considered the likeliest to seek power cuts this winter, due to their high reliance on nuclear power.
Kerosene heater sales in April-September have mostly been traditional models that lack an electric fan to circulate hot air, Japan Industrial Association of Gas and Kerosene Appliances data showed, suggesting concerns about electricity supplies.
“A kerosene fan heater, which is safer and more convenient, usually sells better than a simple one. But this time the latter beat the former since it can be used without electricity,” said Ryo Kawahigashi, an association official.
Sales of traditional model heaters in April-September reached their highest in at least a decade, at 761,000 units, more than four times the year-ago figure of 168,000 and surpassing the 464,000 fan heaters sold in that period. (Editing by Edmund Klamann)